The first inhabitants of Absecon Island were the Lenni Lenape Indians who believed that you could no more own land than own the sky or the sunshine. The first European to hold an actual deed to what would become Atlantic City was an Englishman named Thomas Budd in the 1670s. His property on the mainland was valued at 40 cents an acre, the land over by the beach was worth only four cents and acre. Unlike others who would follow him, Thomas Budd was not a developer. Nothing much happened on Absecon Island for over a hundred years except when hunters arrived to take a few birds.
Jeremiah Leeds erected the first permanent structure on the island in 1785 and set about planting corn and rye and grazing cattle. By 1850 there were still only seven homesteads on Absecon Island, all but one a descendent from Leeds Plantation. About that time Jonathan Pitney, a prominent physician, and Richard Osborne, a Philadelphia engineer, got the idea that the salt air might be a health boon to the denizens of sooty Philadelphia. They launched the Camden-Atlantic City Railroad and on July 5, 1854 the first train chugged onto the island after a 150-minute trip.
Osborne got to name the new town and Pitney named the grid of streets so the streets running parallel to the ocean would be called after the earth’s great bodies of water and the cross streets would be named after the existing states. The first hotel, the Belloe House, was already in business by the time that first train arrived and massive block-hogging hotels would soon follow.
But these new hotel owners were having a problem they never encountered back in Philadelphia. There was sand all over the hotel carpets and passenger cars on the trains. Alexander Boardman (could that have been his real name?) got to thinking about the problem and he proposed creating an eight-foot wide wooden walkway from the beach to the town. The world’s first boardwalk was laid in 1870; it was taken up and stored every winter. Today’s Boardwalk, placed in a herringbone pattern of two-by-fours made of Bethabara hardwood from Brazil and Longleaf Yellow Southern Pine, of today is 60 feet wide, and 6 miles long.
By 1900 there was electricity in town and trolleys and rolling chairs on the Boardwalk amusement piers stretching ever further into the Atlantic Ocean. The population was 27,000 - a far cry from fifty years earlier. The name “Atlantic City” had the same magic that “Disney” now has. Our walking tour will try to find some remnants of that age scattered among the multi-billion dollar casinos that began arriving in 1976 with the mission of restoring the glitz of “America’s Favorite Playground”...
31 South Rhode Island Avenue
This is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey and the third highest light in the United States; you can climb the 228 steps to the top. The tower was constructed on the highest dune on the island in 1857 and lit with mineral oil to reflect through a Fresnel lens custom-made for the Absecon Light in Paris. Its light could be seen 19.5 nautical miles out to sea. The tower and keeper’s house have both been restored.
WALK DOWN RHODE ISLAND AVENUE TO THE OCEAN. ONCE ON THE BOARDWALK, TURN RIGHT.
Revel Casino Hotel
Boardwalk & New Jersey Avenue
From the tallest lighthouse to the tallest structure - in Atlantic City at least. The newest boardwalk casino - if it gets finished - boasts a hotel tower of 47 stories, 710 feet high. It is the second tallest in the state of New Jersey and would be the second tallest casino tower in the country.
Boardwalk & New Jersey Avenue
It was more than its uptown location that set the Garden Pier apart from its cousins further down the boardwalk. Rather than amusements its centerpiece was a dignified B.F. Keith’s Theater that was the rival of any Broadway house. The Spanish Renaissance architecture and landscaped gardens lured an upscale crowd who could enjoy one of the city’s largest ballrooms. Garden Pier was not without its kitsch, however, for many years the Underwood Company displayed its “World’s Largest Typewriter” here. Ultimately its “remote” location caused its commercial downfall and the pier closed in the 1940s. It was resurrected in 1953 as the home of the Atlantic City Art Center and in 1985 came the Atlantic City Historical Museum.
Atlantic City Showboat
Boardwalk & New Jersey Avenue
The Mardi Gras-themed Showboat opened in 1987, emphasizing a “family theme” hotel and casino. It was the only Atlantic City casino to have a bowling center. It soon abandoned its family destination strategy however and found more success as the first boardwalk casino to offer simulcasting, the first to open a poker room and the first to add keno.
Trump Taj Mahal
Boardwalk & Virginia Avenue
The Taj Mahal opened in 1990 as the third property for Donald Trump in Atlantic City. The casino has the biggest poker room on the boardwalk and the most table games in Atlantic City. The poker room was also featured in the 1998 movie Rounders.
Boardwalk & Virginia Avenue
The Steel Pier came by its name honestly, being the first Atlantic City pier to be built on iron pilings and steel girders when it opened in 1898. It became the most famous of all the amusement piers helped by such iconic acts as Rex The Wonder Dog, a water-skiing canine and the High Diving Horse. William “Doc” Carver “invented” the idea of horse diving exhibitions in the 1880s after a bridge collapsed under him in Nebraska and his steed dove into the water. He toured the country with the act but it found a permanent home on the Steel Pier in the 1928. The diving horse shows ended in 1978 and the last two horses, Gamal and Shiloh were rescued by The Fund for Animals. In 1991, the movie Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken told the story of a teenager in the Depression who rides diving horses based on the Carvers in Atlantic City. Six horses were trained for the movie, and although horses originally dived heights of up to 40 feet, the movie horses never jumped more than 10 feet. You can still see horses diving today but never with a rider and never from such heights. In the golden age of Atlantic City a typical season would find one million visitors to the Steel Pier. The pier used to be much longer, but a December 1969 fire shortened its size by about a third. The original wooden pier with steel underpinnings was destroyed in a 1982 fire; the current concrete structure dates from 1993 and still host rides and amusements.
Boardwalk & North Carolina Avenue
Resorts International began life as an offshoot of the Mary Carter Paint Company of Tampa, florida that was looking to diversify in the 1960s. The stodgy paint company started running small casinos in the Caribbean. In 1968, the Mary Carter Paint Company was sold for $9.9 million and three months later Resorts International was hatched with visions of owning and operating casinos around the world. In Atlantic City bills were introduced in the 1970s to revitalize the resort with casino gambling. On the fourth try, in 1976, gambling was legalized. In 1974, anticipating that the bill would pass someday, Resorts was the first company to bring cash to the table when itbegan buying land on the boardwalk, including $2.5 million for the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall, a Quaker-owned hotel that at one point refused to sell alcohol. The hotel was the only one in Atlantic City that could meet the 500-room minimum set forth in the legislation to open a casino. While everyone else had to build a casino from scratch, Resorts was able to open a year ahead of its rivals. During that year of 1978 people would line up as early as 9:00 in the morning and wait for the 10:00 opening. But as other newer, flashier casinos opened Resorts could no longer do such fabulous business in the older facility and was their turn to play catch-up. In 1988 entertainer Merv Griffin poured $90 million into updating Resorts that launched about 15 years of renovating and expanding.
Atlantic City Beach Patrol
Boardwalk & South Carolina Avenue
The Atlantic City Beach patrol formed the nation’s first professional life guard service in 1892 with 20 men. Before that time “constables of the surf” consisted of volunteers and part-time police officers. Today the highly trained lifeguard patrols cover up to 50 stations along the beach.
Boardwalk National Bank
The Boardwalk National Bank took its first deposits on the ground floor of the Schlitz Hotel on the boardwalk at the corner of Ocean Avenue. It was the only bank of the boardwalk. Later the bank moved into this Spanish-influenced, limestone-faced building with a prominent barrel-vaulted two story entrance portal decorated with tile. The building now houses the Casino Control Commission.
Boardwalk National Bank
Robert LeRoy Ripley was a travel journalist who collected odd facts from around the world that began appearing in cartoon panels in 1929. In 1933 Ripley displayed some of his oddities at the Chicago World’s Fair and attracted over two million visitors before the fair closed. Ripley’s collection then hit the road as trailer shows across the country which led to permanent “Odditoriums.” Many, like the one on the boardwalk, feature appropriately odd construction.
1519 Boardwalk at New York Avenue
Right off the top - salt water taffy is not made from salt water. You do need some salt and some water to make a batch of taffy, however. But the name “salt water taffy” doesn’t come from the ingredients either. No one knows where the name “salt water taffy” came from. The most popular story of origin involves a shopkeeper on the Atlantic City Boardwalk named David Bradley. A tidal surge from a summer storm in 1883 swamped Bradley’s store and buried his inventory in sea water. As he was cleaning up the following day a girl walked into his store and asked for a bag of taffy. Bradley was supposed to have sarcastically invited his young customer to help herself to his “salt water taffy.” Bradley’s mother thought his grumpy remark to be catchy and encouraged him to begin selling his candy as “salt water taffy.” Historians record the first mention of “salt water taffy” in Atlantic City business directories in 1889 so the Bradley story may be apocryphal. The term was never trademarked, however, and whatever its origins it became the accepted way to market taffy. Just as no one knows who first called the sweet candy “salt water taffy,” there is no record of who boiled the first vat of sugar, corn syrup, water, cornstarch, butter and salt to make the first taffy. Taffy is thought to have been a popular confection at country fairs in the Midwest by the 1880s and it was certainly being sold in America’s first seaside resort by that time - Atlantic City. Salt water taffy is the quintessential souvenir of a trip to the seashore and for that we have a confectioner named Joseph Fralinger to thank. Built in 1870 by railroad conductor Alexander Boardman, the Atlantic City Boardwalk was originally designed to prevent sand from creeping into hotel lobbies as well as the passenger cars of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad. Atlantic City became the Queen of American resorts and Joseph Fralinger was the King of Salt Water Taffy. It was his idea to sell the candy to bathers and strollers along the Boardwalk in boxes that could be carted home as a souvenir. He was so sure of his idea that he purchased 200 boxes and filled them with his slender, finger-sized logs of taffy. He started selling his souvenir boxes on a Saturday evening and by Sunday morning he had sold out his entire supply to departing vacationers. It did not take long for Fralinger’s competitors to notice his success. Enoch James left his home in the Midwest to join the taffy wars with his square bite-size serving of salt water taffy. Both men prospered and more than 100 years later James Salt Water Taffy and Fralinger’s are still two of the biggest suppliers of salt water taffy on the Jersey Shore.
Park Place and the Boardwalk
The Claridge was a Colonial Revival 400-room hotel designed by Philadelphia architect John McShain and opened in 1930. With the Great Depression on the horizon it became the last of the great hotels to be built near the boardwalk. The luxury Claridge was the only hotel to offer guests hot and cold fresh or salt water in their rooms. When the casino wave swept Atlantic City it also became the last of the great hotels to be refurbished as a gambling hall. It was the smallest of the Atlantic City casinos, a circumstance that gave the Claridge a marketing hook but hindered its long-term success and it was swallowed by Bally’s at the beginning of the 2000s.
Boardwalk at Park Place
This was the location Jeremiah Leeds chose for his homesite when he founded Atlantic City. In the 1920s it was also the site of Charles Brace Darrow’s summer home. Darrow was a domestic heater salesman from Philadelphia who lost his job following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. While in Atlantic City he developed the final version of Monopoly, designing the iconic images and naming the properties for Atlantic City streets. Monopoly would make Darrow the first million-game designer ever and the Guinness Book of World records would eventually call it “the most played board game in the world.” Today Brighton Park is the site of the New Jersey State Korean War Memorial.
Boardwalk at Park Place
When Bally’s came to Atlantic City in the late 1970s there was a mandate to build spanking new casinos, not merely “patch and paint” existing hotels. Ballys’ bought two landmark hotels: the Marlborough-Blenheim hotel and the Dennis hotel. The Marlborough-Blenheim, the first hotel in Atlantic City to provide hot and cold running water and a private bath in every room, was dutifully torn down but Bally’s decided torenovate the Dennis. The Dennis began as a cluster of wooden cottages on the beach in the 1850s. Its final incarnation arrived in the 1920s when the hotel was re-designed in the French Second Empire style with flamboyant twin mansard roofs. After a $60 million infusion by Ballys the Dennis is one of the few boardwalk buildings remaining to provide a glimpse to Atlantic city the way it used to be.
Ballys Wild Wild West Casino
Boardwalk at Park Place
In 1929, Harry Warner, one of the founding brothers of Warner Bros. film studio in Hollywood, built one of the company’s most opulent theaters on the boardwalk in 1929 with seating for over 2,000 patrons. It was considered Atlantic City’s most beautiful movie palace. By the 1950s, with the coming of television and suburban shopping malls, downtown theaters hit hard times. It was indicative of the age that when the Warner Theater was sold in 1958 and the terms of sale required the name be changed the new owner called it the “Warren” so he could save money by only changing two letters on the marquee. When Ballys purchased the property it kept the glorious terra cotta facade and used it as the centerpiece for its old west-themed casino.
Caesars Atlantic City
Boardwalk at Arkansas Avenue
Caesars got started in Atlantic City in 1977 by renovating a 1960s Howard Johnson’s motor lodge. The casino hotel is attached to the Pier Shops at Caesars, which opened as the Million Dollar Pier in 1906. John Young, who began his working life as a carpenter and did a stint on the Atlantic City police force, cut his entertainment teeth on the Applegate Pier, later called the Ocean Pier at Tennessee Avenue. He promised to build a pier that would “cost a million dollars” and thrust a third of a mile into the Atlantic Ocean. Festooned with towers and home to entertainers like Harry Houdini, the Million Dollar Pier was a mainstay for Atlantic City visitors. One of the biggest attractions was the Deep Sea Net Haul where twice a day a netload of fish would be spilled on the deck and Young would reverentially describe the “wonders of the sea.”
Boardwalk at Mississippi Avenue
Donald Trump, the name most associated with associated with Atlantic City casinos, actually came late to the party. The Plaza, his first, opened in 1984 as the boardwalk’s tenth casino. Trump has closed many deals in the town since but one he couldn’t seal was with Vera Coking. In 1993 Trump sought to build a parking lot designed for limousines and bought several lots adjacent to the Plaza. Coking, a retired homeowner, who had lived in her house at that time for about 35 years, refused to sell. She turned down a million dollars for her modest three-story vernacular building. When Coking refused to sell to Trump, the city of Atlantic City condemned her house, using the power of eminent domain. Her designated compensation was to be $251,000 and she fought the local authorities and eventually won the right to stay in her house in a court of law.
Boardwalk (Convention) Hall
Boardwalk at Mississippi Avenue
When Convention Hall was conceived in 1926 the assignment given to the architectural firm of Lockwood, Greene & Co. was to “build the world’s largest auditorium.” When it was completed in 1929 it was the largest free-standing building in the world and is still one of the world’s largest interior spaces. Convention Hall was best known as the home of the Miss America Pageant but a Democratic National Convention was held here (1964) and a college football bowl game and a horse-racing steeplechase and many other events and concerts. You can also find the world’s largest pipe organ here. With more than 33,000 pipes ranging in size from 3/16 of an inch to 64 feet in length, it is the largest musical instrument ever concocted. A recent $90 million renovation has yielded a new name - Boardwalk Hall - and preserved the Beaux Arts exterior. The multi-story Romanesque arcade above the broad Boardwalk entrance is flanked by tall pylons. Above are inscriptions to sum up what takes place inside: EDUCATION, SCIENCE, CONVENTIONS, ART, INDUSTRY, FESTIVITIES, MUSIC, PAGEANTRY, DRAMA, ATHLETICS.
Note: You have walked nearly two miles down the boardwalk. The tour finishes with a loop along the blocks adjoining the ocean. Much of this land has been cleared for casino parking or retail stores and restaurants. Every now and then there is a building of historic interest. If you would rather just walk back up the boardwalk you can complete the tour that way. Otherwise...
TURN RIGHT PAST BOARDWALK HALL AND LEAVE THE BOARDWALK. WALK OVER TWO BLOCKS TO ATLANTIC AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT.
northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Arkansas Avenue
This Neoclassical building from 1913 was built for the Equitable Trust Company and later acquired by the Boardwalk Bank. Its latest master, Sun Bank, shuttered the building in 2010 and it appears headed for its 100th birthday as a restaurant for The Walk shopping outlets.
TURN RIGHT ON MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. BOULEVARD.
Carnegie Library Center
corner of Pacific Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (formerly Illinois Avenue)
In 1902 the City purchased this land specifically for a library and the following year, as part of his mission to endow public libraries across the country, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie provided funds to build it. Albert R. Ross won a design competition and he provided a Neoclassical plan that was heavy on natural light for an art gallery, museum and meeting rooms. The exterior of the three-story corner building was outfitted with gleaming white marble, granite and terra cotta - an appearance that library users from 1903 would recognize today. The Atlantic City Free Public Library departed for bigger digs in 1985 and after the building, ranked among the top 150 buildings in New Jersey by the American Institute of Architects, was used half-heartedly by the City for a few years it stood vacant for a decade. It was rescued by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the City of Atlantic City, and The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to serve as its Carnegie Library Center. Next door is the Civil Rights Garden, considered to be the only one of its kind in the Northeast.
TURN LEFT ON PACIFIC AVENUE.
Victory First Presbyterian Church
northwest corner of Pacific Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue
The First Presbyterian Church of Atlantic City was founded in 1856 and has fostered the organization of four daughter churches within the resort as well as fifty other Presbyterian churches in South Jersey. It is an excellent example of English Norman Church architecture.
southwest corner of Maryland Avenue and Pacific Avenue
The first Jewish house of worship In Atlantic City was constructed for the Beth Israel congregation in 1872. The congregation moved to this synagogue in 1914. Its original home still stands although it was converted to apartments in the 1930s.
CONTINUE DOWN PACIFIC AVENUE TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE ABSECON LIGHTHOUSE.